Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bibliophile: Philosophical Phindings and Pheminism at Cape Breton University

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
― Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus

This week: What books are new and hip at Cape Breton University, after the break.

 There's no new book page I can easily find, so we'll search by year and subject, ala the Library of Congress subject listings. The database is a mix of several libraries in the area, including Cape Breton U, Mount Saint Vincent University, and Saint Mary's University. So I guess I can skip them in the weeks to come.

Energy Level Alignment and Electron Transport Through Metal/Organic Contacts From Interfaces to Molecular Electronics / Enrique Abad
This book is the first thing that pops up on the philosophy subject heading. Methinks there might be something not quite right about their fields.

Politics of happiness: connecting the philosophical ideas of Hegel, Nietzsche and Derrida to the political ideologies of happiness / Ross Abbinnett (Jan 17, 2013)
This book is $114.00 on Amazon, and currently on sale at that. At that price, it's certainly not the consumers who are happy. The argument of the book is that Western concepts of happiness need to be understood in the general context of the Enlightenment and its political ideologies, and each chapter considers happiness in response to some kind of -ism: liberalism, postmodernism, socialism, fascism, and religion.  (Religionism?) Ando another general theme is how Hegel's phenomenology, Nietzsche's genealogy, and Derrida's deconstruction demonstrate happiness as a clash of belonging, overcoming, and ethical responsibility. It would be fairly easy, I think, to link happiness to consumerism, mass media, alienation, and so forth. That the book doesn't seem to be going out of its way to do that is interesting, and might make it worth reading right there.

An environmental history of the Middle Ages: The Crucible of Nature / John Aberth (Oct 21, 2012)
The book bills itself as a cultural survey of attitudes towards the environment during the middle ages. Aberth sees the general relationship as one that moved from an adversarial relationship with the environment to something more collaborative--right up until the end of the Middle Ages. Then the Great Famine, the Black Death, and the Little Ice Age happened, and people started to realize their relationship with the environment had to be more than a "live and let live" sort of thing. The book has a pretty wide mandate in terms of time and space: it covers from 500 to 1500 AD, and ranges across all of Europe, including England, Spain, the Baltic, and Eastern Europe. And it centers on the major elements (air, water, earth--sorry, fire, not this time), the forest, and animals. I'd like to see the animal discussion in particular. The Medieval period (is that the same as the Middle Ages? Me not know history so good) gets a bad rap for being cruel to animals, and I wonder if it may turn out being more nuanced than that. H.

The Grail, Arthur, and his Knights: A Symbolic Jungian Reading / Maria Zelia de Alvarenga (Jan 1, 2013)
I love King Arthur stuff. My one medieval class in university was a year long seminar course on Arthurian Legend, where we went from the original quasi-Roman history to the Mort d'Arthur in all its 1000+ page glory. I love the King Arthur stuff so much I still occasionally jot out notes for a trilogy on the subject, telling the whole story through the eyes of Lancelot, Gawain, and Mordred. Jung, on the other hand, I could mostly take or leave, with the exception being the pretty decent movie, A Dangerous Method, a fictionalized account of parts of Jung's life. In general, I've never had too much truck with the symbolism side of psychoanalysis--it feels too much like mysticism to my jaded, skeptical perception. Alvarenga is interpreting the book in terms of the general theme of search, freedom, and dreams of a return to a Golden Age. Searching and Golden Ages certainly fit with the Grail story. I'm not sure how freedom works in that context, but freedom's a big enough term that it can work with most things, if you're willing to squint a little bit. And it's the specifics of pyschoanalysis that I mistrust. The more general notion--in Jung's version of it, at least--that you can go from societal myth to individual meaning is something I can get behind, and it seems that's what Alvarenga is doing here.

How to live together: novelistic simulations of some everyday spaces / Roland Barthes (Dec 18, 2012)
Huh. I thought I knew my Barthes pretty well, but I've never heard of this one. He's a French theorist, which means his work leans heavily towards the rambly side of the literary theory spectrum. And he was a structuralist and a post-structuralist, which means he went from creating complex systems of evaluation to generally ignoring those systems.(It's the double bind of the theorist: if you stick dogmatically to the models you create, then you spend your career retreading the same ground over and over. And if you're constantly inventing new methods, people say you couldn't have much faith in the old ones.)  And he's a semiotician, which means looking at various things as signs, and asking what they mean. And this, I hope, was one of those summaries which is vaguely incomprehensible for the non-English folk, and infuriatingly incorrect for the English folk. This particular book is in a series called "European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism," and is composed of lectures he gave near the end of life. The big idea here is idiorrhythmy, which is the basic idea that one learns to live to by respecting the individual rhythms of the other, and how different living spaces create different ways of life. And he does so via the Parisian apartment in Zola's Pot-Bouille, the sanatorium in The Magic Mountain, Gide's story of a woman confined to her bedroom, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and Palliduius' Lausiac History, detailing the ascetic lives of desert fathers. Between the videogames and the fantasy novels, I'm a big believer in exploring how fictional accounts of space work. Although I have to say, these particular works don't really enthrall me. H.

The Sublime, Terror and Human Difference / Christine Battersby (Sept 15, 2007)
First, a word on the difference between terror and horror. From what I understand, the basic distinction is that terror is the feeling of dread that you get prior to something really nasty occurring. Horror is the revulsion you get after the nasty. The distinction dates all the way back to the Victorian age, with Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe. And I can see how it's useful, as a distinction. But in terms of the actual words, I can't say I like it very much, for the simple reason that I'm not a big fan of any terminology that runs contrary to the popular culture understanding of the term. Generally, people don't bother to distinguish between horror and terror, and  to do so, even for the purpose of a useful distinction, strikes me of a case of academia operating in a manner alienating to the general public. But that's a private pet peeve. Battersby's book is on a concept she calls the female sublime, how sublime as pleasure has been linked to the transcendence of terror, and how the sublime was feminine, but denied from human types that didn't conform to white male.  It's another wide-ranging book, dealing with the original coining of sublime as a major concept in the 18th century, as well as September 11th and Islam. It's looking at theorists that range from Kant and Burke to Irigaray and Arendt. She starts with the argument that we tend to think of the sublime now as the failed encounter to comprehend infinity, but it originally also referred to the way pleasure can mix with terror. That's an addition you can really do something with, especially in terms of dealing with modern depictions of horror. Or terror. Whichever. H

Dispossession: The Performative in the Political / Judith Butler
Confession time: I've never finished any Butler book. (Secondary confession: I've been writing this blog for so long that I'm not sure whether I've made this confession before, and I'm too lazy right now to bother checking.) Butler is a huge figure in gender theory and queer theory, but she also has a reputation for rehashing the basic points of her work (see the "damned if you" parentheses from the Barthes entry) and general obfuscation in the way she phrases things. Given that my area of interest generally isn't gender or queer theory, our paths don't cross very often. But I'm still mindful of her significance, and keep an eye out for her stuff.  This particular book is also by Athena Athanasiou, a fact which the library catalog neglects to mention in its basic description. And it's part of a series called PCVS-Polity Conversations. The subject here has nothing to do with gender, particularly--rather, it's Butler's theories in more general terms, as the book explores dispossession in terms of global actions, such as Middle East uprisings, collective bargaining, and standing bodies up against hierarchy.

Philosophical feminism in popular culture / Sharon L. Crasnow. Joanne Waugh, eds. (Dec 6, 2012)
I was hoping a pop culture item would come up. Not that there's anything wrong with Butler or Barthes, but sometimes, you just want to talk about Star Trek or something. Although offhand, I've never personally seen a feminist reading of Star Trek that went much further than "female captain." At eight chapters and 200 pages, it's not quite the shortest essay collection I've seen--that privilege goes to Ringbearers: The Lord of the Rings Online book--but it's pretty slim. I can't find a copy of the tale of contents online, which is always annoying, but according to the description, there are essays on black female comics, Sex and the City, Mad Men, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Battlestar Galactica. That's a decent range of works, and I'd be interested in the Battlestar one--between characters like the President, the various Cylons, and Starbuck, there's a lot of potential fodder.  H.

Faint objects: and how to observe them. / Brian Cudnik (Sept 18, 2012)
I like this title--it hints at the subject without spelling it out. Unless you're up on your astronomy, in which case you're immediately thinking it means looking at particular types of stars that can't be seen as easily as others. Exactly what this book is doing in the "philosophy" subject search is something of a philosophical question itself, but once you broaden philosophy to that degree, you're edging toward turning everything into philosophy.

Monstrous Crimes and the Failure of Forensic Psychiatry/ Pamela D. Schultz and John Douard (Nov 13, 2012)
The typical way we rhetorically frame drug dealers, psychopathic murders, and pedophiles is as monster or predator; Douard and Shultz argue that this framing shapes our concept of justice and the treatment of such criminals. To that end, they trace the metaphor through the 19th century into today, and look at how it's used to scapegoat certain kinds of criminals so that we can avoid anxieties about our own potential for deviant interests. This is a complex issue, made more complex by the highly charged emotional nature of the crimes. I think you could make a case that justice isn't even what people are looking for when it comes to punishing these offenders, that we'd rather get vengeance. And the trouble with going for vengeance over justice is that it satisfies an immediate urge, but can fail to address deeper societal issues. I think we're seeing this debate playing out now in relation to gun violence in America--there's a lot of talk about preventative measures and treatment and how to find and neutralize (rehabilitate is probably a better word) potential offenders before they, well, go berserk and kill a lot of innocent people. And as soon as you do that, you're wading into new issues, that you're ignoring the potential for guns themselves to be dangerous (no tool is neutral, frankly, though it can be put to various purposes), and the danger of stigmatizing mental health issues even further.

In the Beginning, She Was / Luce Irigaray (Dec 27, 2012)
Speaking of Irigaray--that is, she was mentioned in the Battersby book, and speaking of theorists dealing in gender that I should read more of, we have this book. From the description, Irigaray argues that Western tradition, dating as far back as the early Greeks, is an elaborate construction of mastery that deliberately moved away from the maternal origin and the real as it is. Equating the maternal origin with the real is a characteristic of a particular type of feminism (or so my vague understanding goes), and Irigaray's at the forefront of that. She says we have to recover or natural belonging and turn back to prior to the Greeks. That's... I'm hoping she's speaking metaphorically, and even then, it's a fairly tall order. At 170 pages, it's a fairly short read, so it may be worth looking at just to know where Irigaray is coming from, regardless of whether you agree with her. It doesn't have any reviews on Amazon or GoodReads, so I don't know what the popular reception of the book is, as much as a book like this can have a popular reception to begin with. B.

Women and Second Life: Essays on Virtual Identity, Work and Play / Dianna Baldwin and Julie Achterberg, eds. It's kind of surprising to see a book on Second Life at this point--it's fallen out of favor a bit in terms of popularity in the last few years. On the other hand, academia does tend to lag a bit behind on that popularity curbve, which is one of the problems with game studies in general--covering relevant games is always something that happens after their heyday, unless you're looking at something with extreme staying power, like World of Warcraft--or, until a few years ago, Second Life. That's one of the selling points of First Person Scholar, really--that we can address game issues with academic rigour before they grow so old that they're irrelevant. At the same time, I wouldn't begrudge a book for being about games that aren't currently in vogue, as another major fault of game studies is that it focuses only on the new and popular. The problem with viewing a Second Life study in that regard is that it's already gotten a lot of limelight. Aren't there other things we could be studying? But I digress. The book is an essay collection, the focus of which is declared pretty plainly in the title. We've got three essays on life as an avatar, about reflections on avatar personas, digital geishas, and identity formation; two on gender and race taht look at cyber stuff and emotion work; three on work and education, which looking at things like Second life and Healthcare rights; and two on culture that seem to take a more personal approach. If you're interested in gender construction and feminism in virtual worlds, I can think of worse places to start.

 Music and Game: Perspectives on a Popular Alliance / Peter Moormann, ed.
It's an anthology of essays on videogames and music.  Neat. It looks like it's been translated from German. Judging from the table of content, the goal of the book is to produce a general history and summation of the main topics that can arise from this intersection. We have Melanie Fritsch on general videogame music history; Michael Liebe on Interactivity and Music in Computer Games; Leonard J. Paul on Video Game Audio breakdown; Willem Strank on iMuse and interactive 1990s videogame music; Andreas Rauscher and videogame genres and soundtracks. Marcus Erbe talks on auditory analysis and fantasy-themed games; Florian Mundenke looks at adaptation and sound in Silent Hill games and movies; Gregor Herzfeld writes on aesthetic considerations; Michael Custodis is on sound in games (not particularly descriptive); Matthias Pasdzierny gets deep into chipmusic, Stefan Strotgen is about paying music and games. So that's eleven essays in all, a modest size for a collection. I think the titles and description are a little too general for the book's own good, but I'd still give it a flip through if it ever crossed my path--especially the Silent Hill and fantasy essays.

Fantasy Film Post 9/11. / Frances Pheasant-Kelly (Mar 20, 2013)
This is absolutely one of those titles where you immediately start guessing what movies we're looking at. And the list here includes Pirates of the Carribean, Harry Potter, Dark Knight, Lord of the Rings, and Avatar--roughly what you'd expect, really.  Pheasant-Kelly's approach is to consider these works in terms of how society's interests have turned more towards magic and mysticism, as expressed through technology and spectacle. So we're looking at how the films reflect 9/11, the war on terror, and environmental disasters. If it was written a little later, we'd probably see militarism and the Avengers added to the list. I do like seeing books like this coming out; I think it's important to be studying pop culture artifacts that are actually having an effect on what people think, and do, and enjoy. Creating new digital tools and experimental projects is great, but it's important to look at what people outside of academia are actually doing with technology and culture as well. H.

That's a twelve-pack. We didn't get much beyond the philosophy subject heading, but I'm happy with how things went.

Later Days.

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